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What is Iverson's Legacy?

First let me get this out of the way: I've never been a big fan of Allen Iverson.

Ok, I can appreciate his talents and that he's sacrificed his tiny (by NBA standards) body and became one of the most improbable high scorers in league history. He averaged at least 39 minutes a game in each of his first 12 seasons in the league. Still, he always seemed like kind of a selfish jerk - his "we're talking about practice" rant highlighted just how little respect he had for his teammates and the game.

He's at the journeyman portion of his career now, playing for his third team in the last two season after a long and illustrious career with Philadelphia. While there was some success in Denver, you can't deny that they played better after he left. The 54-game experiment in Detroit was a disaster last year, and now comes the Memphis stint, which is already showing signs of trouble after just a few weeks.

First there was a partial tear in Iverson's hamstring that kept him out of the entire preseason and the first three regular-season games. When he did return to action, A.I. wasn't happy with his playing time. Then comes the mysterious "family issue" that has taken him away from the team for the last week. Giving him the benefit of the doubt that it's a real issue (and I hope for his sake that everyone in his family is ok), now some sources have him contemplating retirement. Even with a little left in the tank, it's clear that he's nearing the end of the road.

My question is: what is Iverson's legacy? Does he ultimately get remembered for the great player he was? Someone who gave his all, but couldn't make his teams better? A controversial malcontent? A misunderstood superstar?

Iverson will be remembered as a better player than Tracy McGrady, a player who (fairly or not) will be remembered as someone who could never get out of the first round, but A.I.'s playoff portfolio isn't a whole lot better. Only one Iverson-led team (the 2000-2001 76ers) won a division or even made it past the second round. They won the first game of the NBA Championship that year, but then lost the next four. It's not Iverson's fault that he didn't have much around him, but if wants to be remembered as an all-time great, I'd like to see a better playoff record - in his last six years he has played in only 14 playoff games, and so far it doesn't look like 2010 will be any better.

The signing with Memphis was telling. This is not a good team yet. Iverson thinks he should be starting, and is upset he's not. I realize he didn't have many (any?) other options during the offseason, but if he's serious about starting and winning, why go to Memphis? It appears that it's all about him, not the team.

And that's really what it's all about to me. Yes, Iverson has been unfortunate to spend his career on some shaky teams, but it looks like that's the way he wants it. If the choice is to be a role player on a good team or the star of a bad one, Iverson would rather be the star. When I look back on the A.I. era, that's how I'm going to see him.

Comments

By: Chris Liss
On: 11/13/2009 9:40:00 PM
Iverson's not an all-time great, but he's an outer-circle Hall of Famer who was arguably the quickest player in the history of the league and its greatest 6-0 tall scorer. He's also a survivor - one of the rare young players who came from a rough place, was branded a thug and a selfish player (to some extent deservedly and to some extent not) by the media and didn't get destroyed by it. You don't lead a Sixers team with that little talent to the finals without being a decent teammate. And you don't play for Larry Brown for all those years if you're incorrigibly selfish. For my money, Iverson in his prime was far more enjoyable to watch than the great fadeaway jump-shooting Jordan who would cry if anyone breathed on him and get the call (Jordan in his second go-round). And please, spare me the religious outrage - I'm not saying Iverson's anywhere near the same class of star as Jordan - only that I'd rather watch the former play in 1998 than the latter.
 
By: andtinez
On: 11/13/2009 10:05:00 PM
Most. Over-rated. Player. Ever. What player would ever want to call him a teammate? His legacy will be that he was extremely talented, fast, an incredible scorer, and someone you would pay to see, but a player who never trusted his teammates. He's the only player I've ever seen that has never had the light click on that basketball is a team game. Allen Iverson was like watching Usain Bolt sprint a mile and never realizing it was a relay race.

His "practice" sound bite is better than his career was. I think I have it memorized I love it so much.
 
By: Chris Liss
On: 11/13/2009 10:40:00 PM
Iverson averaged 6.2 apg for his career despite playing much of it at shooting guard. The 27/6.2 is close to LeBron's 27.5/6.5. Kobe's well below five apg. D-Wade's at 6.6. Considering that Iverson made it to the finals with Eric Snow, Aaron McKie, Dikembe Mutombo, Toni Kukoc, George Lynch and Tyrone Hill as his best teammates, I think you're selling him way short, andtinez.
 
By: Mark Stopa
On: 11/14/2009 4:16:00 AM
Iverson going to Memphis was reminiscent of TO going to the Bills.
 
By: andtinez
On: 11/14/2009 10:00:00 AM
I realize he was incredible, but no one would ever want to play with him. If he was your only star you would never win it all with him and he was never willing to take a back seat to anyone for the greater good of the team later in his career.

His image and persona were his biggest influences on the league. He was the culture of hip-hop that existed/exists (if you still believe that) in the NBA.

It should be noted that he was an awesome football player in high school and overall awesome athlete.
 
By: Kevin Payne
On: 11/14/2009 3:32:00 PM
I'm not a Iverson fan either for the aformentioned reasons, but he was a tough SOB. He shot 7-10 free throws a game, a lot of times from taking the ball to the hoop and challenging the big men, which didn't typically work out for him physically.
 
By: Dave Regan
On: 11/14/2009 5:50:00 PM
Tough yes. Great? Hardly. 42.5% FG% pretty much says it all for me. Chuck it up as much as he did, and the points will be there.
 
By: dharvey34
On: 11/14/2009 6:19:00 PM
As a Sixers fan who got to experience the Iverson era, I can say he is NOT a Hall of Fame player. For the reasons others bring out - selfish player, bad teammate, no work ethic, poor shot selection - he just doesn't make the cut.

For me the "family emergencies" and the chronic "flu" excuses sound really familiar - the Sixers trotted those out all the time to explain Iverson's missing practice, or pre-game shootaround, or team meetings. This was a guy who was and remains "me-first". Yet he then has the audacity to complain about never having the right players around him. Let's note that when he came on to the Sixers they *wanted* him to play point due to his size, and clearly his astounding ability to handle the ball. They drafted Stackhouse to be the SG, then Hughes - AI would have none of it! He refused time and again to be a point guard - he HAD to be the shooter. And one wonders why at the All Star Game in which he won MVP, there were anonymous quotes from several players who said they would NEVER want Iverson on their team.

The quintessential moment I recall that sums up Iverson's legacy was a late season game during the 2000-2001 season between the Sixers and Lakers. This is after the All Star Game MVP ceremony in which Iverson seemed to have patched up things with Larry Brown, and there seemed to be hope he was finally maturing as a player. Final seconds of the game, Sixers down 1 and call a TO. The broadcast has a mic in the huddle as Brown instructs Iverson that he shouldn't push the penetration, that they are giving him the 15 footer and that Allen should take it. Clearly Brown sees what Iverson refuses to - that the Lakers know he'll shoot it, and will funnel him into the lane for Shaq and others to smother any shot that the 5' 11" guard can get off. Play runs and sure enough the Lakers just give Allen the mid-range jumper and are counting on him to keep going into the lane. And what does AI do - listen to his Hal of Fame coach? Nope. See that the Lakers are trapping him? Nope. He's determined he'll drive it to the hoop on all 5 Lakers - he never gets the shot off, end of game, Sixers lose.

Iverson, for all his talent, will always be a loose cannon who would never listen and never change his game for the team.
 
By: Kevin Payne
On: 11/14/2009 7:24:00 PM
Good post DHarvey.
 
By: Jacobdk
On: 11/14/2009 8:06:00 PM
I don't get the "selfish" charge about someone who played as hard as Iverson and always put his body on the line. I just don't know what it means--to me selfish would be someone who counted his money and didn't care about winning and didn't work hard on the court. Maybe he wasn't a great "team player" (certainly the Denver experiment demonstrated that), but John Stockton wasn't a great "scorer." Most players just have strengths and weaknesses and need the right environment to succeed. Dharvey typifies the impossible to satisfy Philadelphia fan. You had one of the most exciting, toughest players in the league for all those years and all you can do is whine about him not being perfect.
 
By: Kevin Payne
On: 11/14/2009 8:42:00 PM
I don't buy that Jacob. I'm waiting for someone to give an argument towards him being a team player, *with* examples. Having lesser teammates and having success doesn't make one a solid teammate. He never saw a shot he didn't like, and again, I'm waiting for an example of him being unselfish or a good teammate. It's just not there.
 
By: saga76
On: 11/15/2009 2:38:00 AM
Iverson's 27 PTS/6.2 AST has to be mentioned with the 42.6 FG%/3.6 TO.

He's to me the perfect example of an inefficient ball hog, regardless of how exciting his play was.
 
By: Chris Liss
On: 11/15/2009 7:41:00 AM
Iverson shot 42.5 because of those seasons in Philly when no one else on the team could provide offense, and they still made the finals losing only to an NBA dynasty. Look at his teammates that year. When he was in Denver and had Melo, he shot over 45 percent every year. And how does a selfish guy who refuses to play PG average 6.2 apg for his career. And again, look at who his teammates were before he got to Denver.
 
By: The Professor
On: 11/16/2009 7:37:00 AM
Re: assists. Getting assists doesn't necessarily equate with unselfish. Iverson and Stephon Marbury, for example, were both experts at getting the "selfish" assist, which pretty much boils down to: I'm going to try my best to score, I'm dribbling around trying to score...I physically can't score, so I'm going to kick it to my teammate and you better make the shot because the shot clock is about to run out.

Now, I'm not saying all of Iverson's (or Marbury's) assists were like that, but a good chunk of them were. Sometimes I think that a more telling stat than # of assists would be 'teammate's shooting percentage on your potential assists'. Iverson had the ball ALL of the time, so almost by definition if a player takes enough shots and makes the penultimate pass enough times they are going to build up points and assists. I'd be curious as to the efficiency, though...Iverson catches a lot of heat for being an inefficient scorer, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if his assists were similarly inefficient.
 
By: Chris Liss
On: 11/16/2009 12:28:00 PM
Maybe, but he made the finals with the teammates above. Seriously, Aaron McKie was the second option. Given McGrady's struggles to get out of the first round, Marbury's track record of not being a winner, Iverson deserves much more than the dismissive conventional wisdom about him being selfish. Consider how the MSM treated Belichick's decision last night, and you really have to question its storyline about Iverson.
 
By: The Professor
On: 11/16/2009 12:59:00 PM
I'm not sure I'm sold on the whole "selfish" thing for Iverson myself, I was just pointing out that getting assists doesn't equate with being unselfish because lots of guys that get assists aren't necessarily doing it to the benefit of the team.

As far as my take on Iverson as a whole...he's a difficult case. Because as you point out, he did take a nominally untalented group (offensively. Important to note that the team was a defensive All Star team) to the NBA Finals. On the other hand, you have to look at the situation...the East in the early 2000s has to be one of the worst conferences in NBA history. So much so that I really can't give full credit to having playoff success in the East during that time period. Iverson's 76ers, Kidd's Nets, Pierce's Celtics, the Robinson/Allen/Cassell Bucks...to me, they were all just slightly above average teams that only went so far because SOMEONE had to win in the East, when none of them really had a shot to beat any of the top handful of teams in the West. Iverson's 76ers were probably the best of those teams, which counts for something, but even that team I don't think gets past the 2nd round out West so I have trouble using that achievement as the crowning jewel in deeming Iverson an All-time great.

Then when you factor in things like Dave Berri's stat claiming well before Iverson's fall from grace that it was the team defense and not Iverson that made that 2001 Philly team so good, and then following that up by absolutely nailing what Iverson's presence/absence would do to Denver/Philly, and then again Denver/Detroit before a game was played...I have to really wonder if Iverson's 2001 season wasn't just a perfect storm fluke, that perhaps he really didn't play winning basketball and that 2001 season pulled the wool over our eyes.

:shrugs: I don't have a passionate position on this matter either way at the moment, but I definitely think there is a lot of food for thought when it comes to trying to evaluate the enigma that Iverson presents both on and off the court.
 
By: nayfel
On: 11/17/2009 12:44:00 PM
There's no doubt that his teams in Phili were weak offensively. You can't debate that. the issue is if he liked it that way. I personally think he loved being the only option on offense and having all great defensive role players around him. He did everything in his power to ensure no other 20 ppg players would come to Phili.
I do think he's a no doubt hall of famer but I do think he had the career he wanted (up until 2009).
 
By: dharvey34
On: 11/17/2009 10:25:00 PM
"I don't get the "selfish" charge about someone who played as hard as Iverson and always put his body on the line. I just don't know what it means--to me selfish would be someone who counted his money and didn't care about winning and didn't work hard on the court."

Iverson had GREAT talent, but he only "worked" hard when the cameras were on - in other words, in a game, he gave it everything he had, which was admirable and we in Philly LOVED that about him. The problem was - it was ALWAYS about him on the court - he HAD to take all the shots (note what I said about Stackhouse and Hughes); he wouldn't allow another offensive player to thrive. His 2000-2001 teammates hated him - they complained all the time about not getting shots except when the shot clock was down to nothing. Big men had to be content with scraps from missed shots.

In addition, he never did what was necessary when there wasn't a game - he didn't practice much of the time and often took the attitude that practice was for the rest of the team because they needed it - but he didn't (which created tons of dissent on every team he played for). He never worked out in the off season, which later meant his body broke down late in the season. Those are all the traits of a selfish player - for all his heart, he didn't really want to put in the work to be great (like a Kobe or a Jordan).

"Most players just have strengths and weaknesses and need the right environment to succeed. Dharvey typifies the impossible to satisfy Philadelphia fan. You had one of the most exciting, toughest players in the league for all those years and all you can do is whine about him not being perfect."

We didn't ask him to be perfect - we only wanted his best effort, and for him to admit his weaknesses and to do something about them. We LOVED him in this town - we WANTED him to be "The Answer". But ultimately he couldn't give us that effort - he simply refused to.
 

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